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John Lamb, Published August 07 2009

Keith, Adkins kick butt at WE Fest set

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - Thursday’s WE Fest lineup will be a tough act to follow – literally.

Headliner Toby Keith and his opener, Trace Adkins, brought their show, “America’s Toughest Tour,” to the Soo Pass Ranch just outside Detroit Lakes.

The dynamic duo has a lot in common. Before becoming honky tonk hit-makers, they were each football players and oil field workers.

At 49, Keith is perhaps a bit more grizzled, but Adkins had his pinkie cut off in an accident (and re-attached at an angle, allowing him to play guitar) and was shot in the heart and lung by his second ex-wife.

Now that’s tough. At 6 feet 6 inches tall, arms like trees and hair down to the middle of his back, Adkins looks more like a pro wrestler than a country star.

And his stage moves were somewhere in between. He finished his first number, “I Got My Game On,” with a maneuver that looked something like Viking Jared Allen’s sack dance, if instead of pretending he was roping calves he was spanking someone.

Adkins maintained the juke joint jock jams with the second song, “Swing,” and, to keep with the sports metaphors, knocked it out of the park. Everyone in the VIP seated section was on their feet.

There’s more to the hulking 48-year-old than just an imposing stage presence. He can actually sing. Adkins’ deep baritone richly rolled out at the end of songs, a nice touch.

While he may portray himself as a little rough around the edges, Adkins has a definite soft spot. He crooned through ballads like his first big hit, “Every Light in the House,” and “You’re Gonna Miss This,” the Academy of Country Music 2009 Single of the Year, a song he admitted he didn’t think would amount to much when he recorded it.

Though he has a booming voice, Adkins was soft-spoken between songs. In a humble moment, he spoke for the artists on the bill as well as the staffers, took his hat off and thanked the crowd for buying tickets in a tough economy.

The somber moment didn’t last too long.

“I don’t worry about money anymore. I woke up this morning and I had a whole bunch of it,” he said with a laugh, launching into “Marry for Money.”

Adkins took advantage of large screens to play the video for the song, as well as some of his steamier clips, like “Hot Mama.”

An odd choice for a sex symbol, Adkins channeled Rod Stewart, covering “Tonight’s the Night” before ending his main set with the shapely smash “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.”

Keith didn’t use the video screens as often, but definitely got his use out of them. A 10-plus-minute spot for Ford trucks, Keith’s sponsor, aired before the singer/guitarist launched into his opener, “Big Dog Daddy,” shortly after 11 p.m.

The singer may be a big dog, but he looked like a raccoon, with white rings around his eyes and red cheeks. Apparently he rode his motorcycle in from Sturgis, S.D.

He didn’t let a little sun get him down and seemed to enjoying himself a whole lot as he rolled through “redneck songs" like “Whiskey Girl,” "Who’s Your Daddy?,” “I’m not as Good as I once was,” and “I Love this Bar.”

The party theme carried on through one of Keith’s most popular songs that has never been a hit, “Weed with Willie,” his account of being smoked out by Willie Nelson. Keith was definitely playing to the party mood of the crowd, subbing the lines “I may get drunk at Detroit Lakes” into the sing-a-long verses. He then toasted fire departments, law enforcement agencies before kicking off “Whiskey for my Men (Beer for my Horses”) with Nelson contributing his vocals courtesy of the music video.

He ended the first set shortly after midnight with “How do you Like Me Now?” and “Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action,” which he blended with Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold,” to keep the classic rock covers theme going all night.

It was no shock that Keith played “American Soldier” and “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” for the encore, or that he brought up the U.S. Marine recruiters who had been challenging men to do 20 pull ups for a T-shirt. The surprise was a duet on “Angry American” with tough guy Adkins. When they sang, “We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way,” and 43,000 people joined, it resonated. At least until they flooded the site with confetti.

Compared to Adkins and Keith, the seasoned Sawyer Brown may not have the war stories, but the road veterans have three decades under their belts. They nodded to that earlier in the evening with their opening staple, the Dave Dudley classic “Six Days on the Road.”

The country pop group lived up to its reputation as an energetic and entertaining live act, particularly singer Mark Miller, who moved and danced from the first beat to the sing-along ending closer, “Some Girls Do.” In between, the group mixed its own hits such as “The Boys and Me” and “Thank God for You” with covers of the Rolling Stones (“Start Me Up,” sung by Greg “Hobie” Hubbard) and Steve Miller (“Rock’n Me,” sung by guitarist Shayne Hill).

It was the group’s 10th performance at WE Fest, but, judging from the audience’s response, not likely their last.

Today at WE Fest

Music lineup:


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533.

Follow his updates from the festival through his Twitter account, Lambwiches, or through his blog on www.areavoices.com.